Whether you know it as poppy seed swirl bread, makowiec, Mohnstrudelmakovnjača, or something else altogether, and whether you eat it for Easter, Christmas, Purim, or none of the above, this lightly sweetened yeast bread swirled with sweetened poppy seed filling is a really special treat.

Poppy seeds are a common ingredient in Central and Eastern European desserts, from breads and cakes to cookies and puddings, and I find poppy seed fillings to be a really lovely change from American standards like chocolate and peanut butter. Because poppy seed bread is a treat enjoyed in so many different countries (including Austria, Poland, Bosnia, Hungary, and Ukraine, just for starters), it can vary widely in sweetness and richness. Not to be confused with a cake or pastry, this recipe yields a light yeasted roll that’s on the not-so-sweet side. My filling includes raisins because I first made this bread with leftover hamantaschen filling and liked how it turned out, but it’s adaptable: depending on your tastes, you can add a splash of rum, or reduce the liquid and replace the sugar with agave, or replace the walnuts with a tablespoon of vegan butter. You can even buy a can of pre-made poppy seed filling at the store, if that’s more your style.

A word of advice: if you are sharing this bread with people who are not well-acquainted with Eastern European food, be sure to explain what it is to your guests or label it, if it’s part of a big spread. Unsuspecting passersby who mistake it for chocolate will be in for a disappointment — not because poppy seed filling isn’t delicious and addictive (it’s both!), but because they don’t taste anything alike. Also, don’t feed this to anyone who might be drug tested in the near future; eating a large amount of poppy seeds can apparently make you test false positive for opiates.

4.5 from 2 reviews
Poppy Seed Swirl Bread
Recipe type: Breakfast
Cuisine: Eastern European
Prep time: 
Cook time: 
Total time: 
Serves: 1 loaf
  • ¼ c lukewarm water
  • 1 Tbsp + 1 tsp sugar, divided
  • 1.5 tsp active dry yeast
  • 1¾ c unbleached all-purpose flour (spooned), plus ½ c for kneading
  • ¼ tsp salt
  • ¼ c unsweetened plain vegan milk
  • 2 Tbsp soft vegan butter or canola oil
  • 2 c boiling water for soaking
  • 1 c poppy seeds
  • ⅓ c sugar
  • ½ c raisins
  • ¼ c hot water
  • 2 Tbsp walnut pieces
  • 1 tsp lemon juice
  • zest from ½ a lemon or orange
  • splash of vanilla or almond extract
  • oil or soft vegan butter for brushing loaf, if desired
  1. First, proof your yeast. In a small bowl, stir together ¼ c lukewarm water, 1 tsp sugar, and active dry yeast. Don't use hot water or you'll kill the yeast! Set in a warm place for about 10 minutes.
  2. Meanwhile, in a large bowl, whisk together 1¾ c flour, salt, and remaining 1 Tbsp sugar.
  3. When yeast mixture has developed a thick layer of foam, pour it into the flour mixture along with milk and butter or oil.
  4. Stir until a wet dough has formed.
  5. Knead dough (in bowl or on a non-stick surface) for 8 minutes, adding extra flour a tablespoon at a time when it gets too sticky. Dough should be smooth and pliable and hold its shape, but not dry or stiff.
  6. Grease your bowl, place the dough inside, and cover. Place bowl in a warm, draft-free place for 45-60 minutes, until the dough has doubled in size.
  7. In the meantime, prepare the filling. In a small bowl, soak poppy seeds in 1 cup of boiling water for about 5 minutes, then drain.
  8. Soak in remaining boiling water and drain again.
  9. In a high-speed blender, combine poppy seeds, ⅓ c sugar, raisins, ¼ c hot water, walnut pieces, lemon juice, zest, and extract. Blend until fairly smooth and creamy.
  10. Once dough has doubled in size, punch it down.
  11. On a lightly floured surface, roll out dough roughly into a 10x14" rectangle.
  12. Spread dough with filling, leaving approximately 1" margins.
  13. Starting from the shorter end, and using a gentle yet firm touch, roll up the dough.
  14. Pinch the ends together and fold them under.
  15. Carefully transfer dough to a baking sheet lined with parchment paper or a silicone baking mat.
  16. Cover with a towel or plastic bag and set in a warm, draft-free place until doubled in size again, about 45-60 minutes.
  17. About 15 minutes before your dough is ready, preheat oven to 350°F.
  18. If desired, gently brush loaf with oil or vegan butter.
  19. Using a bread knife, gently make a few slits in the top of the loaf.
  20. Bake loaf for ~40 minutes, until golden.
  21. Transfer loaf to a cooling rack.
  22. Cool fully before slicing or storing.
  23. Store for a few hours covered in a clean kitchen towel, or overnight in an airtight container. The crust will soften as it sits.
I like to use a fine mesh strainer to drain my poppy seeds, but you can also drain them in a cloth bag. If you have neither, you can carefully pour the water off by hand -- but since you'll likely be unable to drain all of the water in that case, I'd recommend that you reduce the hot water for the filling accordingly.

If you don't have a high-speed blender, you'll want to grind your poppy seeds in a clean coffee grinder before soaking them. I would also recommend soaking your raisins in boiling water for about 10 minutes to ensure that they're soft enough for a regular blender.

Yeast bread can be a finicky thing, so be patient with yourself. If your kitchen is cold, your rise times will be longer. If the bread tears when you slice it, it's either not yet fully cool or wasn't baked long enough. If the filling is dry when you slice it, you've baked it too long.

If you're looking for something sweeter, you can dust the loaf with powdered sugar or glaze it after it has fully cooled. You can also coat the top of the loaf with poppy seeds before baking (after brushing it with oil), if you like the looks of that.